New on DVD: 'One Step Beyond: The Official First Season'

John Newland, host of the 1959 television show 'One Step Beyond' that is now available on DVD.

John Newland, host of the 1959 television show "One Step Beyond" that is now available on DVD.

From movie critic John Beifuss' blog

You've heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas? Now, for the fourth straight year, The Bloodshot Eye counts down the Thirteen Days of Halloween with reviews of recently released All Hallow's Eve-appropriate DVDs, each day through -- well, through at least Nov. 4, I reckon...

John Newland, host of the 1959 television show 'One Step Beyond' that is now available on DVD.

John Newland, host of the 1959 television show "One Step Beyond" that is now available on DVD.

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Dolled-up for her first teenage party, a shy and awkward girl unleashes destructive psychic energy after her spiteful and dirty-minded female guardian -- resentful, yet scared of the girl's power -- accuses her of dressing like a "dirty" Jezebel.

Sounds like "Carrie," right? Yes, but it's also a synopsis of "The Burning Girl," one of 22 half-hour episodes found on "One Step Beyond: The Official First Season," a recently released three-disc set from Paramount's CBS Home Entertainment label.

"We seriously suggest an adult audience only," warned host John Newland, a proto-Rod Serling type, at the end of the previous week's episode, promoting "The Burning Girl." But "Girl" -- a possible influence on Stephen King's "Firestarter" as well as "Carrie," since the troubled title protagonist causes fires with her mind -- is fairly discrete and ultimately upbeat; the girl (played by cult actress Luana Anders, about 20 at the time) never kills anybody, and even went on to live a happy life as a wife and mother, Newland reassures us at the end of the show.

Created by Merwin Gerard for producer Collier Young, "One Step Beyond" -- or "Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond," as it originally was known -- debuted on ABC on Jan. 20, 1959, ten months before "The Twilight Zone," and it was Rod Serling's series that took TV horror to a new level. "One Step Beyond" was spooky, but it held back; with its supposedly fact-based stories about precognition, "bilocation," telepathy and other paranormal activities, it pretended to be informative, educational, even "scientific," in a way. As Newland states at the end of the series' debut episode, "The Bride Possessed," about a newlywed Southern belle (Virginia Leith) who suddenly takes on the identity of a murdered Yankee: "There's a nice technical word for what happened to Sally Conroy -- it's called 'possession.' There are thousands of cases of possession in the records, many of them fully authenticated by respected scientists."

Billed during the first season as "our guide into the world of the unknown," Newland -- who also directed the episodes (and later helmed Day Nine's scary made-for-TV-movie, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark") -- is a marvelously suave host; he's like a warmer, less menacing Serling. His introduction sets the mood: "The amazing drama you are about to see is a matter of human record. You may believe it or not. But the real people who lived this story -- they believe it. They know. They took that... one step beyond."

During the pilot episode, included as one of several bonuses on the new DVD set, Newland delivers a more excessive supernatural sales pitch: "About this startling new show as a whole, we say this: When ordinary people of our real world encounter the chilling world of the unknown -- when normal men and women take that one step beyond -- that, we think, is incomparable drama. All the more memorable and amazing because these stirring adventures are true -- absolutely true."

Apparently, some episodes of the three seasons of "One Step Beyond" have slipped into the public domain, enabling budget labels to release cut-price collections of episodes in the past. Ugly cover design aside, the CBS/Paramount set, however, is definitive. The episodes -- apparently shot on 35-millimeter film, with Russell Metty ("Touch of Evil," "Spartacus") among the cinematographers -- look and sound absolutely amazing. (I would say "good as new," except nobody watching on television in 1959 would have experienced such sharp sound and such a clear picture.)

The stories themselves are very much in the early TV tradition of quality drama. They're almost filmed stage plays, with the emphasis on writing and performance. They're more eerie than scary. For example, the ninth episode, "The Dead Part of the House," is a spooky tale about a little girl whose three dolls apparently help her connect to the ghosts in her nursery; but when "The Twilight Zone" introduced "Talky Tina" in an episode titled "Living Doll," viewers weren't just spooked, they were traumatized.

Still, "One Step Beyond" had an impact (just ask the band Madness), and should please fans of creepy television. And TV and movie buffs in general will be pleased by the succession of recognizable guest stars, including Mike Connors, Cloris Leachman, Patrick O'Neal, Reginald Owen, Yvette Vickers ("Attack of the 50 Foot Woman") and Julie Adams ("Creature from the Black Lagoon"), among others. (Another recognizable name: assistant director Erich von Stroheim Jr.) Here's hoping that seasons two and three soon follow.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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